“If you have something you want to be more active in or you have a goal in mind, just do it.” – Tory Bahe
Recognizing the critical role of leaders in advancing education for environmental literacy and sustainability, The Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation (WEEF) has been working to highlight individuals that are leading the way in Wisconsin. Tory Bahe recently agreed to speak with WEEF Program Director, Jesse Haney, about her role as an environmental education leader in Wisconsin.
Victoria (Tory) has an BA in Elementary Education from Wartburg College in Iowa and joined the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) staff as a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in 2005. She spent two years as an Environmental Educator at the Riverside Park branch. She moved on to teach for a year at Neighborhood House before rejoining the Urban Ecology Center team as one of the educators that helped to start the Center’s first branch in Washington Park in 2007. She continues to teach 3/4 time at the Urban Ecology Center and has taken on a new role at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Service Learning Coordinator, helping facilitate professional development for UEC staff, community outreach opportunities for UW programming, and service learning opportunities for UW students. Victoria taught summer camps and teacher workshops in northeastern China just before the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She recently completed her service on the board of the Wisconsin Association of Environmental Education. An avid swing dancer, Victoria has organized nine (and counting!) swing dances at Riverside Park Center, and kicks up her heels after hours whenever she can.
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader?
I consider myself the type of person that is a leader, but would not consider myself a leader in the field of environmental education (EE) in Wisconsin. If I was making a list of Wisconsin EE leaders, I would not put myself of that list.
I was shocked to be asked to do this interview in the first place. I’m sort of young and think there are others out there with more experience that could have been asked these questions before me. [Tory is 28 years old.]
Q: Why do you think others consider you a leader?
I guess partially because I was on the WAEE Board and am active in advocacy in Wisconsin – which is a hot button issue for many reasons. I played a lead role in planning and carrying out the WAEE conference that was held in Milwaukee and it went well (WAEE Fall Conference on Urban EE ’08). I also work for the Urban Ecology Center, which is an organization that is recognized as a as a leader in Wisconsin EE.
Q: What is the change or difference you are working towards? What is your ultimate goal?
The difference I’m hoping to make is having a more environmentally literate society /people. I’m doing that with my students on a daily basis by helping them love crayfish and being the person who encourages them to touch their first worm. Helping kids enjoy nature is a critical first step to developing environmental literacy.
As a WAEE board member, I helped to provide professional development for teachers and other educators that helped them to develop environmental literacy in others. Also, through WAEE’s advocacy work, I helped to make sure legislation promotes environmental literacy. Good policies can help make it possible for us all to pay attention to the world, know a little about it, and care for it.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you see in getting to that goal?
I really like the UEC model that has us working with the same schools and students every year. I am those children’s’ environmental mentor. I help them to learn about the natural world and some of the processes going on around them. But, I’m still just one person working with 12 schools, and so many more people are needed. I can sometimes feel small and like just ‘one person.’
Q: How do other people help?
A lot of people are on the front lines of EE in Wisconsin. Through relationships with adults, teaching programs with kids, and all sorts of other programs, people are working to develop environmental literacy. There are also a lot of people behind the scenes ‘greasing the wheels’ that we don’t see – making the jobs of on the ground educators easier by fundraising, budgeting, and completing office tasks. There are so many people working towards the goal of environmental literacy.
Q: How do you wish other people would help?
I want people to realize the voice they have. I am an environmental educator by day, and teach swing dancing by night. I also have other activities and relationships outside of my work, and I bring environmental literacy to all of them. For example, recently a bat flew into our class’ dance space. Participants were squealing, swatting at the bat, and running for cover. Once I got everyone calmed down, I used the excitement as a learning opportunity. I taught the group about white nose syndrome, bat monitoring surveys, and how they could get involved in protecting bats.
In this instance, and many others, I used what I knew and what I do in my job in my out of work relationships. I don’t keep my day job and my life separate. My friends on a walk with me have to deal with me stopping to look at birds. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am.
Q: Do you have any advice for how others could be better leaders or ‘followers’?
Just do it. If you have something you want to be more active in or you have a goal in mind, just do it. I was an elementary education major, not a biology major. I am not a traditional environmental educator in Wisconsin in that sense. I became involved in environmental education at UEC through an AmeriCorps program, and have stayed here for more than four years because I love what I do.
I don’t have an EE degree or a ton of experience, but I’ve been willing to say yes and do it.
For more Lessons in Leadership from Wisconsin environmental educators, visit the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education blog and look for WEEF’s guest blogger entries. Do you know a leader in Wisconsin EE we should talk to? Contact Jesse Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.